Hopes, Dreams and Cynicism

The New Year is still in its infancy but already many of the hopes expressed for the future will have been dashed. The world hasn’t become kinder or more peaceful overnight. To dare to hope for better things labels one a dreamer, a romantic; but a cold douse of cynicism soon brings us to our senses.

Perhaps it is because I’ll be offline when you read this, in the midst of three days of intense silence and prayer, that I can’t bring myself to be cynical. Hope is always something of a cinderella virtue, but I think it defines the Christian attitude to life. God never abandons us, though I admit he does seem to keep his face hidden much of the time. The Incarnation we have been celebrating, and even more, the revelation to the gentiles which, in England and Wales, we celebrate in tomorrow’s great feast of the Epiphany, contradict any ideas we may have of a God indifferent to our plight. In Jesus, God has united himself once for all with our human condition. He shares our hopes and is himself the fulfilment of those hopes.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen. How much work remains to be done to heal the schism between Catholics and Orthodox! But it is not an impossibility, a ridiculous dream. As we look back to an age when the Church was essentially one, though riven by disagreements and quarrels and what we now regard as heresies (e.g Arianism), let us also look forward in hope to a time when the Church will again be one in faith and love. May our merciful Lord show us how.

Health update for Digitalnun
You may like to know that Digitalnun got the results of her latest PET scan on 30 December. The metastases (secondaries) in her lungs have grown since the September scan, but not, apparently, those in her liver, etc. The sarcoidosis seems under control again, but because treatment for that interferes with treatment for sarcoma, the situation is being monitored for a few weeks until the effects have worked through. Given that she didn’t expect to see 2015, let alone 2016, she is quite upbeat and very grateful to you for your prayers, and to the Oxford Sarcoma Team and Herefordshire Macmillan Nurses for all their care.

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Silence Days

Either before or during Advent, we try to have three days of complete silence: no noisy machinery or unnecessary conversation of any kind, no digital noise, no nothing. While this gift of physical silence can be helpful, it is the interior noise that causes most difficulty. For it is from within that the real trouble comes.

The idea of freeing ourselves from every distraction in order to concentrate on God and the things of God may seem wonderful, but as soon as one has switched off the computer, one thinks of writing a letter; one goes into the oratory to pray and immediately contemplates the tasks one hasn’t completed. We cannot escape ourselves, however much we try, so the trick is to bring ourselves into the situation and then let go; register the distraction and then dismiss it. That is especially important during Advent, the beginning of the Church’s year, and a time when we revisit the whole of salvation history. It is in silence that we hear the Word speak, but attaining that silence is a struggle.

I tremble slightly before writing the next few sentences because I fear they will be misunderstood. It is absolutely essential that we remember that God is in charge of our Advent, not us. We are likely to fail again and again in the matter of recollection. One of the old Desert Fathers used to say of monastic life, ‘I fall down and get up; I fall down and get up.’ In other words, it is not success in our own terms, or in the terms of our peers, that matters. Our growth comes from humility, and very often the only way of learning humility is through the experience of failure.

So, as our thoughts turn towards Advent, let us be encouraged by the goodness and kindness of God rather than discouraged by our inability to respond adequately to his love. Let us read and pray the scriptures so that when Christmas morning comes we too can say, ‘To us a Son is given.’ Then we can dance with the angels and sing. (cfr St Basil.) Our Advent will have brought us into the ‘now’ of Eternity.

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